Weekend Poetry: Hermes, and other poetry
Mvr Apeldoom’s Wager
Pascal to Mvr Apeldoom: ‘Bring me
a gruel of lentils as black as the abyss
beside my bed.’ ‘Thinned by water.’
‘No bread.’ ‘Only water’.
The notes accumulate. I skewer
them and scurry round the kitchen.
No contact but by letter.
As if I were some girl in a portrait
that he’s dreamt, he sees me poised
between the act of reading
and having read, ready to conjure
his final frugal meals from air.
I remember his abyss:
a good solid parquet that bore
the chair I sat on as he hired me.
His face was an abyss, a quill
above a maw that told me
I must feed his stomach
not his appetite. I soaked
his socks in brandy
for a little warmth, a little sleep.
Pascal to Mvr Apeldoom: ‘Jesus
will be in agony until the world’s
end. We must not sleep till then.’
When you read too quickly
or too softly you hear nothing
and so it was with me and him.
I skimmed his notes. He noticed
little in my food but the glimmer
of a body, real and crucified.
I cannot stomach it. I bang
my cast iron pots on deal
and hope he hears my basement
world which fills me to the brim
with all its unused gleams.
Pascal to Mvr Apeldoom:
‘There is light enough for those
who wish to see, and enough
shadows for those who don’t’.
And so I heaped up shadow
upon shadow on my dishes,
stomped up the stairs
and placed them one by one
around the edge of his abyss:
a pink blancmange peppered
with favors, two ripe pears,
soft slawing into hard,
a jug of wine, a knife of light.
And then I turned to face him
and struck my pose: my hand
outstretched, a bridge across
the gleaming parquet
of infinity, two tiny
settling into stillness.
The God of Punctuation
You sit cross-legged among the lesser gods and goddesses
of ancient Egypt, bright civil servant
to the pantheon and understudy
of the Moon. Dugs descending to your tummy,
you disdain the scrolls and do your punctuation
in your head like sums. Your enemy is Hu,
the goddess of the spoken word
who never sees the point in you.
God of the irritating underscore
and discreet ellipsis,
we won’t find you in the intuition
that adjudictes the use of en or em dash;
For you, it’s relationships
that matter to the warp of prose,
implied connections to the weft of verse.
Sometimes we catch a sense of you
when the eye rushes briefly
to a colon’s precipice:
here is a luxuriant revolving stillness
in pools and eddies before they tip
headlong through the sluice,
meaning what they say.
Your quintessential pith
is in the brimming void
that saves one paragraph
in the next. You keep watch
among the ditto marks
of inky sandbanks,
the tender parent
of our drift, our flow.
I won’t study departure.
Refuse to conjure it in words
and make a sign. I avoid
looking into water, wash my hands
in the tap’s ignorant rush.
In my dream it is always the night before.
A calm avoidance settles
nothing. I set the alarm to wake us early.
I wake every hour, on the hour.
In his dream, we have travelled together
to his exile. Which is here.
And without a word we say
‘Don’t say a word!’
after Rilke’s ‘Orpheus. Euridice. Hermes.’
‘That was an infrared trigger!’
A scan betrayed the daisy chain of IEDs
planted in a ditch of carcasses.
So I lifted them across the beam of red
and zig-zagged above irradiated ruts that stretched
like roots before us.
Everything was blanched.
Rag woven rubble skittered through a mist of dust.
A turbid lake of oil clouds hung above
its feeding fires, and through emaciated meadows
a strip of tarmac unrolled its craters like a rusty bandage.
Down this strip we flew.
In front, a skinny bloke in a beige flak-jacket,
stumm, febrile, fixed on footprints.
He gulped down the road and never gagged;
his hands velcroed to his sides, arms
grafted to the crumpled strum
of an AK-47. He seemed divorced,
as if a guillotine had cut his body from his shadow
which rushed ahead of him, stopped,
looked round, then stole ahead,
to stand in mockery at the road’s next fork, --
but the listening in him wound
back, rooting in our footsteps.
Then he cussed the echo of his boots,
cussed the buffet of the wind.
‘You’ve got to be back there’, he whispered
to himself; ‘Got to be’, he said aloud
as the words caught up his dust. We
were. But our steps were softer than
If only he could shift
around, just once (but to turn
so would sour all this work, so close
to closure), then he couldn’t fail
to spot us, ‘the others’, we two
who followed him so softly:
Me, god of instant messaging,
a giggle hat above my card sharp eyes,
mobile half removing me to other worlds;
and on my left prosthesis: her.
Shells ringing like bells off distant
tanks pulled her through a street
It was absorbed by silence. Stalls
bereft, gas stops bereft, ‘The Barbershop
of Peace’ all sanded up, bereft
of every shout or song or whistle,
a little numb abandoned universe.
And now she matched my step,
her steps in time to the tattered camouflage,
her face a smooth reflecting surface
for the sun, for me, for every god who saw her.
A still life, sufficient to herself alone,
she had no eyes to see the guy in front
or the endless flats of their existence.
This deadness made up every angle of her body,
each gesture a concentrate of death,
a passing that could not pass itself.
Dama de Noche, inviolable girl,
a walking statue
that could not feel my fingers
as they coaxed her on,
was she once his eyes, his
words, his song, played
over and over in a house
she’d barely left?
And when, suddenly,
hoping, for once, to understand
the message that I carried -
she looked blankly at me, and quietly answered
a smudge, akimbo on the check-point’s plastic chair,
stood up, his features scarved. He stood
and saw me rip the bandaged road in two,
watch her take one route and me
another, our steps in time to the tattered camouflage,
my face a smooth reflecting surface
for the sun, the man, the woman,
for any thing that sees us.
from The Book of Small Disappointments
You wake up in a large field of paper and experience yearning for the kind of
complex but nourishing poem you can live in for a few days. It has several storeys
and a lift down to the sea. Bathers salute you on the way up to new meanings and
epiphanies. Rilke is definitely in the environs though the poem is not necessarily by
him. But he is a brooding presence on one of the cliff top paths. The wind may be
him praying. Rimbaud runs around in a bathing costume on the beach. No British
poets are to be seen anywhere and, indeed, there is a sign against them. A cave
contains most of what you love about the poem but cannot put into words. There
are small Shetland ponies that refuse all standard metres and forms and chomp on
regardless. The air is very very comforting but there is the disquieting sensation that
none of this is real and that, ultimately, you will be profoundly disappointed and
I go to the gym after an absence of three and half years shuffling paper. I
over-exercise and pass out in the shower. I come to as I am being carried -dripping-
across the changing room by three muscular dudes, at least one of whom is in his
70s. 'Ye need tae eat a proper breakfast son!' he smiles. I hang my head between my
knees registering a mixture of humiliation and gratitude that I did not drown. My
three new friends leave me discreetly to recover and grin benevolently when I
finally exit the gym. On arriving home I am inspired to write a poem about a
puddle. I then fall into a deep sleep on the living room couch. I have a vivid dream
that I am late for an appointment with my University Principal. I am hurrying to
this acutely anticipated rendez-vous when I am overtaken by the Principal hurrying
in the same direction. ‘Ah', I say, 'I'm a bit late'. 'Me too', he replies, and hurries on.
Together we come to a large scaffolding. The Principal bounds up this edifice like a
gazelle. I puff up behind him and find myself on an incredibly narrow ledge that
follows the contour of the building. The Principal is scuttling ahead like a mouse
heading for home. I cannot set foot on the plank and call out: 'My vertigo, you
know'. The Principal turns then pauses then darts into his office. In a few seconds
he returns balancing a teapot and a tea cup. 'One jump or two', he asks.
A What's App friend sends me a message to say he has shown my Facebook profile
picture to a friend who has the sixth sense and sometimes gives 'readings'.
I should say that this What’s App friend is half in love with me. But only half. The medium
has told my friend that we are very alike, that we both have ‘the same world in our
heads’, that my poetry is ‘very beautiful but too engaged with art and nature’, so
much so that I ‘cannot feel like “normal”people’. I am not surprised that the
medium has intuited my poetry. I have met mediums before and they have always
been correct. This leaves me feeling as though I have swallowed an apple core. A
huge laugh bellies about within me but doesn't manage to get out.
I am climbing one of the steep hills on which sits the imperium that is Strathclyde
University. Half way up I pass a large ‘open pit’. I know it is an open pit because
there is a sizeable sign that identifies it as such even although its character is fairly
obvious. Ladders descend into the pit and workmen in yellow jackets peer
authoritatively into it staring at large green tubes which -I presume- carry the
plumbing that links the various parts of the University to each other. The large pit
will enable the Principal to send memos to Human Resources a couple of seconds
faster than previously possible. Ahead, at the top of the hill is a solitary red brick
archway, all that is left to commemorate the old Rottenrow hospital that stood here
where all of Glasgow’s mothers used to come to give birth. The conjunction makes
me pause, as does the hill’s steepness. The pit, I think, reminds me of the pit of hell
Mozart’s Don Giovanni descends into at the end of the eponymous opera with that
oddly theatrical cry. It is a cry that hangs between music and something more
animal. While all around are the ghostly cries of birth, the mothers and their babies,
replaced now by a green space of distractedly managed ivy and dubious sculptures;
and a ‘community garden’ I have never seen anyone in. I am suspended, then,
between life and death. I consider this for a moment before pushing on, uncertain
whether or not to embrace this insight with the full blooded triteness familiar to me
from some of my students’ essays.
On returning home after a weekend away, I find that a seagull has taken a large shite
on the bathroom window. It’s yellow streak has splattered the surface with a
panache worthy of Pollock. Fortunately the window is ‘tip and tilt’ so I can open it
and clean it myself. I prepare the cleaning materials and set to. It takes about three
minutes. I close the window and return to my work table. On my next visit to the
toilet I discover that the window is still not clean but has taken on a cloudy hue.
The bird shite has thinned out a bit and been displaced all over the window. I let out
an oath somewhat in excess of the cause. I set to again. This time the blind becomes
entangled and I have to open the window wide to fix it. I leave the bathroom to
fetch ladders. On my return I find that a small bird has flown into the room. This
terrifies me. I leave the bathroom and hope that it will fly out again. I peek in ten
minutes later. There are now two birds in the room. I close the door, put on my coat
and leave the flat. I return later that evening.
What is it about glum 58 year old men? Too poor to retire due to the punitive
actuarial reductions on their pensions that they face if they try to snatch them early,
they have seen it all and done quite a lot of it too. You encounter them in the laybys
of life munching stoically like sheep. They regard you without a flicker of interest
and then, just as you have given up hope, seem about to deliver a smidgen of
wisdom. But all that emerges are a few black pellets and they trot off into
the unpromising scree.
A youngish man of about 35 stares and stares at me in a coffee shop. I am with a
friend and so cannot give him much attention but I notice his and am agreeably
surprised. On leaving, I manage something like a cross between a nod and a stoop
in his direction. He does not acknowledge this or perhaps he simply fails to register
it. He does not follow me outside. About a fortnight later he contacts me on a
particular social media platform and asks if by any chance I had been in a coffee
shop with an Asian two weeks previously. Astonished, I reply yes but that my
friend is not Asian. I ask him if he was the person who had stared at me so
insistently. He confesses that he was. I ask him how on earth he has been able to
associcate my social media profile with my presence in the coffee shop. Among
other things, he tells me that I am much more attractive in person than in my
photographs. In my reply email, I suggest that we take a coffee together in the same
coffee shop so that he can verify this. I check my inbox a little later - a very little
later in fact - but find that he has not opened my mail. I have checked my mail quite
frequently on this site for two months now but my message to him remains
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